Ap­point­ing an out­sider as Garda Com­mis­sioner could fur­ther weaken con­fi­dence in the force, writes Eilis O’Han­lon

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News -

Eilis O’Han­lon on why we don’t need a Bri­tish cop to sort out the Gar­dai — while Philip Ryan looks at the po­lit­i­cal fall­out

THE new Garda Com­mis­sioner must be some­one who’s served as a po­lice of­fi­cer, ac­cord­ing to New­stalk’s Ivan Yates. Few would quar­rel with him on that.

He wants the new boss to have a civil­ian deputy, too. Fair enough. There must be other struc­tural and cul­tural changes as well, the for­mer Fine Gael min­is­ter says, in­clud­ing an over­haul of the De­part­ment of Jus­tice. So far, so good.

Then the clincher: it must be an out­sider. Specif­i­cally, in Ivan’s opin­ion, “an ex­ter­nal Bri­tish cop”.

The need for an out­sider cer­tainly does seem to be the con­sen­sus amongst the com­men­tariat. That’s what the op­po­si­tion wants, to­gether with nearly half of those polled by RTE’s Claire Byrne Live, against 29pc who wanted an Ir­ish ap­pointee and a fur­ther 23pc who did not know.

And whilst De­nis Bradley, for­mer vice chair­man of the North­ern Ire­land Polic­ing Board, is right to say that “even for­eign po­lice chiefs have bag­gage”, break­ing decades of tra­di­tion to bring in some­one from out­side the State would have many ad­van­tages. The new­comer wouldn’t be com­prised by past loy­al­ties or mis­takes when com­ing up be­fore the Public Ac­counts Com­mit­tee. Bring­ing in an out­sider would also al­low the Taoiseach to say Ire­land was be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated and mod­ern, which might suit his tem­per­a­ment.

The tra­di­tional ar­gu­ment that an out­sider can’t be in charge of the coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies could also be solved by sep­a­rat­ing polic­ing and se­cu­rity, as Ivan Yates has also ad­vo­cated for some time. That will likely hap­pen sooner rather than later. But an out­sider wouldn’t be with­out prob­lems.

The first dif­fi­culty is that the Gov­ern­ment would surely have to smash the public sec­tor pay ceil­ing in or­der to re­cruit from abroad. Po­lice chiefs in other ju­ris­dic­tions are used to much higher rates of re­mu­ner­a­tion than Noirin O’Sul­li­van (pic­tured inset) en­joyed. That’s bound to up­set sec­tions of the op­po­si­tion and me­dia who au­to­mat­i­cally equate high earn­ings with in­sti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion. Just watch as all those who called for O’Sul­li­van’s head cry foul when her suc­ces­sor is be­ing paid more than the Pres­i­dent. The sec­ond dif­fi­culty is whether it would be harder for an out­sider to com­mand the loy­alty needed to en­act change than some­one rankand-file guards al­ready know and trust. If the new man swept in like a con­queror, re­sis­tance would be in­evitable; equally, if he was forced to mould him­self in such a way to win them round, cur­rent crit­ics of the force would sim­ply write him off as al­ready com­pro­mised.

The third is­sue is whether the right out­siders will even ap­ply for the post. The skill set needed to re­pair the dam­age done to the rep­u­ta­tion of An Garda Siochana is quite spe­cific. Not all ex­ter­nal can­di­dates would have the right ideas about what needs to be done. The last time the job came up, there wasn’t ex­actly a flood of ea­ger ap­pli­ca­tions from out­side the State. The last point of con­cern is a much trick­ier topic: what if, as Ivan Yates sug­gests it should be, the new Garda Com­mis­sioner is not only from out­side Ire­land, but Bri­tish?

The thought of a Bri­tish po­lice of­fi­cer jet­ting in with a big stick to put the Ir­ish back on the right track has un­for­tu­nate his­tor­i­cal con­no­ta­tions, to say the least. It could rightly cause re­sent­ment, lead­ing in turn to a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on morale that is al­ready shat­tered among uni­formed guards on the ground. Now it emerges that the cur­rent favourite to suc­ceed O’Sul­li­van is in­deed for­mer Metropoli­tan Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Sir Bernard Ho­gan-Howe, who went from 25/1 to 2/1 in a mat­ter of hours last week af­ter a flurry of bets. This may in­di­cate no more than a run of over-ex­cited pun­ters; a nice ru­mour mill never hurt book­mak­ers’ prof­its. What­ever the rea­son, it makes the al­leged favourite not only a Brit, but a knight of the realm no less.

Another name that’s been sug­gested is Rob Wain­wright, head of Europol. He’s a Welsh­man. Again, a hugely ex­pe­ri­enced fig­ure, though never a po­lice of­fi­cer, but the mes­sage sent out by re­cruit­ing from abroad would inevitably be, in the man­ner of those old dis­crim­i­na­tory jobs ads, that “no Ir­ish need ap­ply”. That no Ir­ish can­di­date is up to the task of fix­ing An Garda Siochana, or that guards are so ir­re­deemably cor­rupt that ev­ery can­di­date who comes from in­side the force is tainted be­yond for­give­ness.

This is hugely in­sult­ing to many of those in­side the force who’ve flagged up dif­fi­cul­ties, urged im­prove­ments, in­ves­ti­gated in­sti­tu­tional fail­ures, writ­ten re­ports. Why not have faith in one of them to spear­head the nec­es­sary re­form? Even Mark Toland, for­merly at the Garda In­spec­torate, now on the Om­buds­man Com­mis­sion, who’s been heav­ily in­volved in the on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion about Garda re­form, did his polic­ing on the ground with the Metropoli­tan Po­lice in London, and holds the Queen’s Medal for dis­tin­guished ser­vice; whilst, de­spite his per­sonal pref­er­ence for a Brit, Yates him­self be­lieves that Kath­leen O’Toole, first fe­male po­lice com­mis­sioner in Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, who cur­rently chairs the Com­mis­sion on the Fu­ture of Polic­ing in Ire­land, may ul­ti­mately get the nod. Another fine po­lice of­fi­cer, but not Ir­ish. Both are, in a sense, in­sid­ers and out­siders at the same time.

There will be other names, though less well known to the public, who worked their way up through the ranks in Ire­land their whole ca­reers, whose cre­den­tials and in­tegrity are re­spected by col­leagues and min­is­ters. Ap­point­ing one of them as the new Com­mis­sioner might not work. Who­ever gets the job might find the ob­sta­cles too great to over­come. Two or three years down the line, it might be de­cided that Noirin O’Sul­li­van’s re­place­ment was no bet­ter at stem­ming the loss of public con­fi­dence in the Guards than she was. But they al­ready have the lo­cal knowl­edge, which means re­form won’t need to wait on a new­comer learn­ing the ropes. The least that those who have bat­tled against the tide de­serve for be­ing right all along is to be al­lowed to try. Not to do so would erode con­fi­dence in An Garda Siochana fur­ther. There’s al­ready a pop­u­lar per­cep­tion out there, whipped up by pop­ulist op­po­si­tion politi­cians, and courted by the me­dia, that An Garda Siochana is a rogue force. Why give these peo­ple any more am­mu­ni­tion by play­ing their game? The dam­age has been largely self-in­flicted, but there’s a snob­bish­ness at work, too. The pro­fes­sional Ir­ish mid­dle classes don’t re­gard guards as equals. They’re cer­tainly not en­cour­ag­ing their sons and daugh­ters to don the uni­form. Se­cretly they doubt that the Garda are clever or hon­est enough to re­form them­selves. There’s also a sec­tion of opin­ion in Ire­land that doesn’t want the guards to put their own house in or­der, be­cause that would mean they were wrong to damn the force as be­yond re­form. They want to ditch the “brand” al­to­gether, just as the Pat­ten Com­mis­sion dis­banded the Royal Ul­ster Con­stab­u­lary and es­tab­lished the Po­lice Ser­vice of North­ern Ire­land in its place.

The need for “Pat­ten-style re­form” is the su­per­fi­cially ap­peal­ing re­frain; but the cir­cum­stances in which the PSNI sup­planted the RUC were very dif­fer­ent. This was a po­lice force which had col­luded in many mur­ders, and which did not com­mand the sup­port of at least half the pop­u­la­tion. Its very em­blems were ob­jec­tion­able to many as sym­bols of op­pres­sion.

As Pat­ten wrote in his re­port: “(The po­lice) have been iden­ti­fied by one sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, not pri­mar­ily as up­hold­ers of the law but as de­fend­ers of the State, and the na­ture of the State it­self has re­mained the cen­tral is­sue of po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ment.” The na­ture of the State is not sim­i­larly at is­sue in Ire­land, no mat­ter how much sub­ver­sives would like it to be.

By de­lib­er­ately blur­ring the clear dis­tinc­tion between the two sit­u­a­tions, many crit­ics of the force want Ir­ish cit­i­zens to start see­ing their own po­lice force as sim­i­larly hos­tile. They seek an over­haul of polic­ing as part of a wider agenda to re­cast the State it­self as hos­tile and in­im­i­cal to the peo­ple’s in­ter­ests. They shouldn’t be given that vic­tory. Ir­ish polic­ing can fix its own prob­lems. Giv­ing it the chance to do so would show or­di­nary guards that the coun­try has not given them up as a lost cause.

‘The pro­fes­sional Ir­ish mid­dle classes don’t re­gard guards as equals’

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